Barbara Kelly, ed. French Music, Culture, and National Identity, 1870–1939. Rochester: University of Rochester Press, 2008.

Kelly’s edited collection considers and questions the role and ability of music and the arts to represent the Republic and nation and to reflect particular political ideologies. Her introduction shows that Republican leaders sought to create festivals, such as the first Bastille Day of 1880, and to select symbols (The Tricolor Flag, 1883) and the Marseillaise (a patriotic anthem firmly established by WWI) and figure heads (de Brazza or Joan of Arc) to celebrate and represent the Republic. State Funerals, particularly those accorded to Emile Zola (1908) and Maurice Barrès (1923), but specifically those held for Gonoud, Saint-Saens, and Fauré, the arts was projected as an element in defining France as a nation. However, the edited collection shows that there was not necessarily a consensus over what was French.

Edward Berenson – Savorgnan de Brazza and the Third Republic

After the Franco Prussion War, Brazza, like Léon Gambetta, Jules Ferry, and other moderate leaders of the Third Republic, sought to direct France’s nationalist impulse away from the lost provinces of Alsace and Lorraine and toward the new provinces of Africa and Asia. Berenson argues that journalists sympathetic to the Republic used Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza’s image to rally a long-divided nation around a fledgling regime in need of great men and great deeds. In a Benedict Andersonian-move, the press, bolstered by the mass-media-espousing theories of Gabriel Tarde, turned Brazza into a hero-celebrity in the 1880s, helping him personify a new Franch standing in Africa and in the world at large.

The Third Republic, eager not to mimic the structure of another Monarchy, was squeamish about the fabrication of living heroes. But the popular press like La République Francaise and Le Petit Parisien, felt that Brazza, a “man without history” who became French (Italian origin) by fighting for France in the 1870s, could stand as an allegorical symbol of the Republic. Although he exuded masculine qualities that needed to be recapture after devastating military defeat, he also contained (or was portrayed as having) gentle, feminine qualities: tact, gentleness, subtlety, and charm. Unlike Sir Henry Morton Stanley, who had left at about the same time for the Congo, Brazza was lightly armed and accompanied by a tiny group of men and used fireworks, instead of firearms, to intimidate the Africans he encountered. Thanks to the unanimous support of the press, the Republican government, really quite fragmented in the 1880s, united in a patriotic embrace to endorse the treaty of Makoko that de Brazza had signed with the Bateke people.

Barbara L. Kelly

Building off Jann Pasler’s analysis of Pelléas reviews, Kelly explores how the arguments over the opera played out and were partly resolved after Debussy’s death. Crucial to the process is Debussy’s own role and that of his principal advocates, particularly Louis Laloy, in shaping the debate and influencing its conclusion: Debussy epitomized French musical qualities.

One of the strongest arguments came from Louis Laloy, who in his November 1902 review of Pélleas in La Revue musicale, noted that the first four bars of Pélleas, which ascended by fifth from D to A, along with prevalent parallel fifths and absent thirds and leading notes throughout the opera, linked Debussy with antiquity and music of the Middle Ages. In doing so, he championed the opera’s distinctively French character by pitting nominally catholic France against mainly Protestant Germany.

Eight years later, the volume Le Cas Debussy (1910) objected to Laloy’s praises by attacking the cult of Debussy and demolishing the achievements and significance of the leader. But World War I swung the pendulum “back” in Debussy’s favor. Debussy felt he was contributing to the war effort and defending French music through his musical actions but at the same time, he was not a nationalist figure on the political right like d’Indy, although he displayed more chauvinism than Ravel or Fauré. His writings reached newspapers like L’Intransigeant (1915) which helped influence long-time detractor of Debussy, Camille Bellaigue, to change his position. In his May 15, 1918 article in La Revue des deus mondes, Bellaigue recluctantly acknowleddges Debussy’s important contribution to French music since he serves a necessary reaction and against Wagner and against heavy, noisy, and crude expression.

His patriotism, but not too political (i.e. his politically ambiguous patriotism which mimicked Brazza's) won over many critics and, after his death in March 1918, L’Excelsior (1919) was among the first articles to describe the composer as a saintly figure who avoided preaching and dogma whileEmile Vuillermoz, a huge Debussy supporter, pushed for Debussy’s status as a national secular saint in Le Ménestrel in 1920.

Marion Schmid – à bas Wagner! The French Press Campaign against Wagner During World War I

Schmid argues that although criticisms of Wagnerism, like those leveled by Saint-Saens in his L’echo de Paris (1914) article, appeared to be musically focused, they incorporated nationalist and chauvinist propaganda in their arguments. Saint Saens frequently mentions lost provinces, bombarding of hospitals, and massacre of innocent women and children. Like Jann Pasler showed in her analysis of Pélleas criticism, virtually all of the articles interlocked musical and political agendas: the right-wing nationalist L’Echo de Paris and the liberal Republican Le Figaro published articles against Wagner while the moderate republican le Temps, La Renaissance, and the satirical Le Mot published articles in support of Wagner.

These political-musical affiliations never always made sense though. Wagner’s two most articulate opponents during World War, Saint-Saens and novelist Léon Daudet, had been fervent Wagnerians in the 1870s. Young Cocteau loved Wagner, but by the end of the war began advocating for a return to French classical aesthetics. Meanwhile, Vincent d’Indy and Joséphin Péledan were both nationalist chauvenists who detested Germany, but made exceptions for Wagner.

There was even more irony in WWI-era criticisms leveled by Daudet, Saint-Saens, and historians like Frédéric Mason because Wagner had been dead for more than thirty years when the war was declared. But looking at illustrations from public press, Kelly shows that anti-Wagnerian critics depicted the German Kaiser as a Wagnerian knight. This conflation linked the arguments that “German art is a political weapon” and “all avant-garde art is German,” which Kelly attributes to an anti modernist reaction during World War I (TJ Jackson Lear’s?!)

She concludes by stating “perhaps the true avant-garde of the prewar period felt under pressure to submit to the new dictate of lucidity and simplicity: in the later years of the war, leading avant-garde artists such as Picasso embraced neoclassicism, while Satie promoted the idea of simplicity in music and Ravel and Debussy paid homage to pre-romantic French musical traditions; shortly after the war, Stravinsky began to write neoclassical works and Paul Valéry, André Gide, Raymond Radiguet, and Julien Benda championed a classical renaissance in literature.”

Steven Huebner - D’Indy’s Beethoven

Huebner takes issue with Leo Schrede’s 1942 summary, Beethoven in France: The Growth of an Idea, which did not give any attention to d’Indy’s biography of Beethoven and instead allowed sixty pages to those by Romain Rolland (1903, Vie de Beethoven) and like-minded contemporaneous writers.

D’Indy himself did not take much to Romain Rolland, Jean Chantavoine, and Julien Teirsot’s depictions of Beethoven. They focus over too much on young Beethoven’s ideals of the French Revolution. As Tiersot notes, “Fidelio is, par excellence, a work of emancipation” and Chantavoine portrays Beethoven as a rugged individualist who struggled for freedom.

In contrast, d’Indy asserts a three periods of Beethoven’s life as a vital critical tool to comprehend his life and place in society. His first stage, (period of imitation) occurred 1785-1801, his second stage (period of transition), from 1801 to 1815, and his final (period of reflection) from then until his death. During the “period of transition,” the artist comes into full possession of his identity, develops independence, and communicates in his art the emotions awakened in his soul by exterior events. In contrast, during the period of reflection, the artist, understanding the limitations of restricting himself to the external world, pursue his own incessant aspirations for ‘pure beauty,’ As Huebner notes, this arguments essentially proposes an “art for the sake of art” argument.

During Beethoven’s final “reflection” period, Beethoven lived a purely interior life. Additionally, he revived and reinvigorated the genres of fugue, suite, and chorale variation in a reconciliation with the musical past. d’Indy also redescribed Beethoven’s childhood in an effort to keep Beethoven as for from the word ‘revolution’ as possible. Beethoven’s early home life was not so bad and thus, he didn’t have the room to “overcome” any “suffering.”

Looking at d’Indy’s biography prompts Huebner to urge scholars He understands the biography as a book that “clears a path that transcends politics.” Resistance to politics may be construed as a form of politics, Huebner concedes. But he also urges to think that “we might take resistance to politics at face value – perhaps as a matter of respect for self-determination.”

James Ross – Messidor: Republican Patriotism and the French Revolutionary Tradition in Third Republic Opera

Ross shows that Emile Zola and Alfred Bruneau’s Messidor (1896) failure demonstrates “how opera’s capacity as a medium for effective political comment is diffused by music’s resistance to clearly ideological meanings.”

The cast wore modern workers’ dress; the libretto was in prose and served an anticapitalist agrarian socialist message with a title that, like Germinal, evoked the heritage of the French Revolution. It attacked industry and the human suffering for which it was blamed, themes Zola treated previously in the worker’s insurrection of Germinal (1888) and the rural poverty of La Terre (1887). It also attacks anarchism, fashionable among some French artists and writers in the early 1890s, as an urban-inspired movement unable to achieve social reform and gained with the evil of the capitalist system it wished to destroy. The opera attempted to use Wagner’s ideas about the “deep and clear conscience of the people” to serve specifically French terms.

However, despite vast publicity and widespread coverage, Messidor failed when it reached the relatively conservative aristocrats and haute bourgeoisie-Opéra in in 1897. One would think that criticism (or praise) pertained to Messidor’s left-Republican-leaning politics. But, with the exception of a few allusions to prime minister and minister of agriculture Jules Mélines protectionist policies of nostalgic social equality, most critics paid no attention to Zola and Brunea’s patriotic musings. Instead, they were more interested in the opera’s ambiguous relationship to Wagnerian music. Messidor, Ross forcefully concludes, shows how opera’s capacity as a medium for effective political comment is diffused by music’s resistance to clear ideological meanings

Brian Hart – The Symphony and National Identity in Early 20th-Century France

Hart shows how since the founding of the Republic, composers had become increasingly obsessed with connecting themselves to a distinctive Gallic heritage that could challenge Germany’s. One question they asked was whether Galllic musicians could demonstrate mastery over Germany by taking the emblematic Teutonic genre and composing superior works. Or, was the the symphony so incompatible with native tendencies that French composers should reject it completely?

Vincent d’Indy was one of the principal “apologists” for the symphony. He saw musical tradition as a single and unified entity that knew no national boundaries. Since the symphony formed an essential link in the ‘chain of the past,’ d’Indy reasoned, present-day French composers were duty-bound to take it up and continue its evolution. While d’Indy felt French symphonists owed their debts to nineteenth-century Germans, other defenders of the French symphony, such as Guy Ropartz, argued that both François-Joseph Gossec and Joseph Haydn invented the genre (primarily Gossec, though!).

Despite their efforts, however, many musicians (especially those at the conservatoire) considered the symphony hopelessly compromised by foreign associations and argued that French composers had no businesss writing one. Even Franck, one of the genre’s French sponsors, was a Walloonian (Belgium) and his mother was German, argued Debussystes like Emile Vuillermoz opposed to the symphony. And they reserved especially harsh criticisms for d’Indy’s scholists who they considered “Germanized French Musicians.”

Those that did write symphonies, however, wrote ones that seemed to speak for their vision. Hart, like Deruchie, argues that d’Indy bases his Second Symphony on a conflict between two cyclic motives, the first of which outlines a tritone (evil) while the second is more lyrical (good). Or, put another way, modernity vs. tradition over which “tradition” wins. Likewise, Guy Ropartz, who argued for a lineage of French symphony extending to Gossec, composed a symphony celebrating Dreyfusard values, receiving praise from Alfred Bruneau.

Meanwhile, if d’Indy’s symphony could be said to symbolize the right-wing view of French symphony, and Ropartz the left, Théodore DuBois’ 1908 First Symphony spoke for the center. At a time when the Republic was seemingly under assault from all sides, Dubois’s symphony “seems to evoke all the Frances, from the majesty of the Reims cathedral and the great figure of our Joan of Arc to the host of revolutionary-sans-culottes marching against the enemy to the strains of the Marseilleise, as Charles-Marie Widor praised.

However, despite government sponsorship of the Edouard Colonne orchestra (1873) and the Charles Lamoureaux orchestra (1881), neither orchestra showed much interest in national, contemporary symphonic music. So in 1904, the Ministry of Beaux-Arts took steps to enforce its desire to protect and promote France’s current generation of symphonists by mandating the two concert series program at least three hours of new music by living French composers each season in order to receive their subsidy. This helps conclude Hart’s argument that the attitudes to the symphony in early twentieth-century France were closely tied up with questions of national identity and honor and such concerns were rarely far from the minds of those who composed, listened to, or discussed symphonies in France at the turn of the century.

Deborah Mawer – Jolivet’s Search for a New French Voice: Spiritual ‘Otherness’ in Mana (1935)
Mawer shows how Jolivet shared the long established fascination with the exotic which was reuinforced by the Exposition colonial of 1931. This exoticism created a continuum of non-Western-inspired output by Debussy, Albert Roussel, Maurice Ravel, Oliver Messiaen, as well as with the primitivism of Le Sacre du Printemps (1913) and Milhaud’s Creation du Monde (1923).

She intervenes to not only reclaim the canonically ignored Jolivet (whose non-Conservatoire education, esotericism, and left wing background having been severely out of fashion in the twentieth century), but also to demonstrate that unlike Messiaen, his spiritual activities were not primarily Christian. As Rollo Myers comments in general, the 1930s fostered a sense of “musical humanism,” which saw Honegger’s Cris du Monde (1931), Jeanne d’Arc (1935), Milhaud’s L’Annonce faite à Marie (1932) and Cantate de la Paix (1937).

What separated Jolivet’s voice, however, lay in his engagement with 19th century and contemporary French philosophy and the anthropological seriousness with which he pursued his non-Western inquiries. And Mawer argues that mana, a French Polynesian concept meaning ‘life force’ symbolized Jolivet’s coming-of-age as an independent French artist while arguably “moving ahead” of Messiaen in the 1930s in reaping compositional benefits from his engagement with non-Western cultures. His most frequent source of musical reference, however, was Debussy, who introduced the idea of exploring all manner of modes – Gregorian, Greek, Hindu, and Polynesian. His view that an artwork’s secret is to link earth and heaven exhibits strong parallels with that of the philosopher and paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955) while his occultism and esotericism derive from Abbé Pierre-Joseph Roussier (1716-90).

The 1931 Exposition Universelle conveyed an image that France wanted to portray to the world – a propagandist stance heavily in favor of colonization, celebrating the triumph of power and maintenance of a hierarchy with Paris at its pinnacle.

While he was well-schooled in Schoenbergian techniques via Edgar Varese, Joliet resisted strict serialism and instead employed free modality which emanated from Chabrier. But in his Mana, l’Oiseau contains elements of the fagu, which is a recitation on a principal pitch, or a small number of tones, that rise stepwise from, and return to, the principal pitch. His “La Princesse de Bali” selects a Balinese semitone tuning (G, A, Bb, B, C, Db, D) which he then orchestrates through the notion of kotekan – a rapid meticulous interlocking of complementary parts polos and sangsih. The Polos is played on the beats (with Jolivet’s right hand) while the sangsih fits in between (left hand).

Ultimately Jolivet saw his mission, and that of his contemporaries, as being to restore music to its original ancient sense, while also seeking to renew the millennial French tradition (being modern and anti-modern).